My Journey on Discovering Self-worth.

My Journey on Discovering Self-worth.

The first layer: illness.

As a child, I knew I was loved. I knew there were people around me who (mostly) loved to fuss over me, brush my hair, make sure my seat belt was on and made sure I had a hot milo for supper before bed (thanks grandma!).

Being born premature, my early childhood consisted of multiple hospital visits. Doctors and nurses would check if I was growing normally, if my lungs were functioning well (being diagnosed with asthma) and if I was learning at a similar rate to other children my age.

I was in and out of hospital a lot due to severe asthma attacks and on two separate occasions, I was treated for pneumonia.

All of that coupled with having a fast metabolism, the food I ate burned quicker than my parents could feed me so I was a skinny kid.

A family friend was over one night, chatting with my parents. He must’ve thought I was too young to understand him so he asked in a casual tone, “Is she sick?”. His head jerked slightly to imply me standing behind him.

Fear set in quickly.

I ran down the hall into my parents’ bedroom.

The feeling of shame welled-up inside.

I cried silently. I was confused. He just asked a simple question. So why did it hurt me so much?

As I said, I knew there were people who loved me, but that night was a turning point in how I saw myself. I began to wonder if I was actually sick.

I wondered if there was something wrong with me.

The second layer: obedience & perfection.

Before I started primary school, I learned about obedience like most children do. If you behaved well, there was a reward. If you misbehaved it meant consequences. For me and my siblings, consequences often meant physical punishment. Being obedient was the name of the game and being fearful was a by-product of ‘playing’.

Throughout primary school and high school, I would fail or end up with sub-par results when my school report came. I excelled in English and Art but everything else was a struggle.

When I’d ask for help at home, it was met with the common response:

“You don’t know anything! How could you not know this yet?!”

That familiar feeling of shame welled-up inside.

I stopped asking for help.

At 15, I got my first job. Little did I know, asking for help would be a hard lesson to learn.

The third layer: religion & fear.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, church was a family ritual most Sundays. We’d sit quietly in the pews, listening to bible readings and the priest summarising a life lesson. As a kid, I spent my time looking at the colourful stained windows. How did they paint so high up?

Sometimes, the children were ushered into the back room that had thick windows. I learned there that children were to be seen but not heard. Church was a sacred place and all sacred places required respect.

As I got older, I learned about how humans were worthless sinners because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, our value was restored by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Only Christians had this amazing Saviour.

When I came of age, youth group felt like an oasis in a world of darkness.

I understood that I was worth it because God saw something in me. A loving, kind and just God had a perfect plan for me.

I was saved and this meant freedom for my soul. I knew if I turned away from God, I would be apart from Him for eternity which I didn’t want. The more I learned about eternal suffering, the more scared I became of the afterlife.

It was a good thing to be “God-fearing”.

Because of Him, I had a family. Because of Him, I had strengths and these were a Gift. Because of Him, I could heal when I was hurt. Because of Him, I could forgive because He first forgave my sins.

Years later, my perspective would change from “freedom in religion” to “freedom away from religion”.

Breaking Down The Layers.

Growing up with these layers of self-worth from such a young age would be a challenge through childhood, adolescence and in my adult life.

As a kid, I tried to run away with my brother. We travelled 2 minutes from home and had to be picked up. As a teenager, I struggled to abide by the curfew rules and would come home late. I didn’t trust any adults, not even the school counsellor who tried to help me. I tried to run away from home for the second time. I stopped attending youth group. I stopped listening to sermon videos and reading my bible and ultimately, I left the religion I grew up believing in.

My only comfort besides the friendships I forged, was being creative. I could draw and write for hours on end. I vented my frustrations, questions and motivations.

By the age of 17, my rebellious streak calmed.

At 18, I moved out of home. I started meeting new friends who were kind, confident, care-free and out-spoken. They were beautiful people! Some of them did not have rooted beliefs in religion. How could they be so confident without the guarantee of a Saviour? By the age of 19, I realised that was the life I wanted for myself.

I stripped my life of unneeded baggage emotionally and physically.

I started seeing a counsellor. I had to face the past abuse, exercised control throughout my life and the belief of worthlessness. I now saw my passion for perfection as a strength. Even if I make mistakes, I will always strive for excellence. It doesn’t mean I’m “dumb” or that I “don’t know anything” – it means I am persistent and resilient. I learned how to reframe my mindset.

I began a decluttering journey, getting rid of unusable items. I realised I held onto all my belongings out of comfort and as a distraction to facing the pain I felt within. For a period of time in my life, I felt empty. Instead of becoming self-aware, I kept things I didn’t need to fill the ‘void’. Letting go of my hoarding habit was such a cathartic process.

The more I healed my emotional wounds, the more I realised:

My self-worth was up to me to decide.

No matter what others did or said.

As each year passed, I continued to break down these layers of self-worth that I’d taken on. It is still a work in progress, but a path I am so glad I walked down years ago.

Remember, your worth is not reliant on any thing, person or being.

You are worthy, just because.

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Childhood Trauma Series | The Beginning

Childhood Trauma Series | The Beginning

Defining childhood trauma

Childhood trauma refers to a frightening, dangerous or distressing event that threatens a child’s life or bodily integrity. This can also include being a witness to a loved ones suffering or pain (vicarious trauma). Events like natural disasters, emotional, physical or sexual abuse can have long-term effects on developing minds and bodies.


A trip down memory lane

It was a normal school day (besides my slipping attendance, which was not new). The year-level coordinator approached me after lunch. I was somewhat nervous but also oblivious to the conversation that would ensue. He asked me a series of questions regarding my lateness, whether I’d lost weight etc. After telling him a small portion of what was happening in my life, he used the word ‘abuse’ to describe what I had mentioned. This was a shock. How was I going through abuse? Wasn’t every other student experiencing this too? When he’d ask how I was faring from then on, I would assure him I was okay, even though I wasn’t. As a teenager, I thought I was right (typically) and it couldn’t be possible that what he said was true. Little did I know, pushing him away (as well as my pain), would cause an emotional overload, years down the track.

A few years later, I was studying Art Therapy. There was a particular module in the course based on The Inner Child. Most modules consisted of theory coupled with practical work. This practical exercise required us to trace the outline of our own body onto large butcher paper. Then, we needed to draw or create an item our inner child needed. I stared at my outline for quite some time. Eventually, I drew a heart shape and coloured it in with a marker. The flood gates had been opened… the next year or so would be one of the biggest struggles of my life.

Throughout my time studying Art Therapy, other peers would share their experiences and I felt somewhat detached. I felt sorry for them but I didn’t have the capacity to truly sympathise. It was like my brain switched off the department to feel pain for others. Including for myself. I began struggling to concentrate. I started skipping class. I didn’t want to do the practical work for fear of all the “shit” coming up in front of my peers. Feeling caged, and somehow ‘in danger’, I didn’t want to face it… face what? Class? Other students? The trainers? I was so confused. What was happening to me? I felt like I wanted to cry most of the time. My personal life was also affected: I was working in a toxic environment that caused panic attacks; my living circumstances were unstable; I had no one to turn to because I withdrew myself. Everything was overwhelming. 

The beginning of healing and discovery

At first, I wanted to see an Art Therapist to shed some light on what was going on. I completed one session but didn’t feel better. I started seeing a counsellor. As I was unravelling my childhood memories however, she mentioned something that made future sessions feel impossible. The college I was at, offered me a list of mental health professionals I could contact for further support. Going through the list, I searched each name on the web. After a few attempts, I came across a counsellor who was located in the city. I read through her website which 1. looked professional and 2. had a calming vibe. Her client reviews seemed positive too, which was great. That was the beginning of discovery and healing for me. 

This counsellor helped me through some harrowing times, past trauma and suppressed emotions. I learned from her how to care, be patient and acknowledge my emotions. I can’t thank her enough for her ability to hold space and offer unconditional support. It was exactly what I needed to begin healing. After a long time with C*, I noticed a ‘heaviness’ that I couldn’t shake – despite all the growth and learning that occurred. I knew then, it was time to find a new mental health professional. 

On-going self-work

A mutual friend suggested I see a specific psychologist that lived nearby. At the first consultation, the psychologist pointed out a possible ‘conflict’ that could hinder progress, if we were to work together. I was then referred on to my current psychologist, N*. 

Since I’ve started seeing N, I’ve grown and learnt SO much. I’ve noticed my thinking has changed a little over this time: I’ve begun thinking critically rather than reacting emotionally. Although my personality traits (that include being emotional) won’t change, I have been enjoying this shift in thinking patterns. Not every action requires a reaction! Sometimes all we need to do is put our ‘thinking cap’ on, and find ways to solve the problem at hand. Give ourselves space to feel what we’re feeling, and when we are able to, get to work on changing what needs to be changed! The power is in our hands. The power, is in our mind.

For me, talk therapy has been really helpful. Perhaps for you, other avenues like creativity coupled with talk therapy could be more helpful. Treatment isn’t a one-shoe-fits-all. What works for me, may not work for you and vice-versa.

Advice for anyone beginning the healing journey or going through it currently.

It may take a few (or more) tries to find a mental health professional that you feel safe with and connect with. Trust the process and be patient. Remember that healing isn’t overnight. Childhood trauma (or any trauma for that matter) can be complex, so be prepared for difficult days and nights. When we experience things during our childhood that shape our beliefs and values we hold, it can be terrifying to sift through memories. I know, I’ve been there. I’m still there. But with what I’ve worked through so far, it’s been the best choice in my life to ask for help and commit to doing the work. It’s time to move forward!

Another piece of advice I wish I had: make a tangible list of coping strategies that help you stay calm and centred in-between appointments. It can be scary, feeling overwhelmed from past memories. However, there is research out there that suggests techniques that help manage symptoms before your next appointment. Things that have helped me (and STILL do): yoga/general exercise, breathing exercises, guided meditations on YouTube, reading self-help books, learning about mental health and treatment, listening to podcasts and seeing friends/loved ones.

If you have any personal questions, contact me here. Please remember, there are people that care about you. Reach out to a trusted person or online community.

Here is a list of organisations that are here to help you:

  • blueknot helpline 1300 657 380 – complex trauma
  • beyondblue.org.au 1300 22 4636 – depression/anxiety awareness
  • kidshelpline.com.au 1800 55 1800 – private, confidential counselling
  • lifeline.org.au 13 11 14 – crisis support, suicide prevention
  • qlife.org.au 1800 184 527 – LGBTI support site
  • vvcs.gov.au 1800 011 046 – veteran, war-related support
  • ReachOut – youth mental health community support

 

 This kind of self-work is not easy, but worth it to move forward in life.

*Names have been omitted for privacy reasons.
*Some words are hyperlinked for further information/learning.

Image by just_shot_of_jameson.

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